ST. CHARLES – Amanda Hilton balances St. Charles East girls basketball with offseason club soccer workouts for Strikers Fox Valley each winter.
Her efforts Saturday proved to be an extension of time-management skills, as the Saints' junior point guard naturally fused both sports together.
Hilton weaved quickly and aggressively through St. Charles North's press and half-court defense, keying a 59-55 Upstate Eight Conference River Division road win. As the game tightened down the stretch, the only part of her soccer instincts she abandoned was the illegal use of her hands, finishing 12 of 14 from the foul line to highlight a 26-point game.
"Speed and control, for sure, are in both," said Hilton, who doubles as a midfielder and recently committed to the Nebraska women's soccer team. "And plus, tough situations where it's high pressure, a lot of that comes into soccer, too."
Hilton handled the final tense moment of the afternoon, splitting a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to provide the final margin.
East (12-9, 7-1 UEC River) grabbed sole possession of the conference lead with its third straight win in the crosstown series. Second-place Streamwood (6-1 UEC River) is idle until next weekend.
The North Stars (5-15, 2-6) countered the Saints' hustle with their own added energy. Told East coach Lori Drumtra had applauded North's strides since the Saints' 15-point home victory last month, the North Stars' Alex Silverman couldn't help but agree.
While sophomores Nicole Davidson (18 points) and Sam Novak (10) joined Silverman (19) in double figures, North still derived much of its urgency from Silverman's fellow seniors. Lauren Durocher and Ava Tarka are the others among an underclassmen-heavy bunch.
"It's the last East rivalry game for a lot of girls on the team this year, and they want to come out and win their last one," Silverman said. "We were a little short, but we did everything we could, and I'm proud of how we played."
North chopped away at a 32-25 deficit at the break, seizing a 42-40 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on a Novak trey from the left wing.
Hilton answered with a 3 moments later. It was her first field goal of the half.
The Saints shifted into attack-the-basket mode once North went over the foul limit with 50.8 seconds to go in the third quarter.
"More layups, less outside shots, less 3s," East senior forward Laney Deckrow said. "Play smarter."
The Saints converted 22 of 31 free throws (70.9 percent), a success rate that helped offset North's four 3s. Silverman provided the last one, hitting a long trey to draw the North Stars within 58-55 with 7.8 seconds remaining.
"We're down, it's a rivalry game, anything can happen. We just wanted to get back in the game," Silverman said. "Good thing Nicole Davidson and Morgan Rosencrants set two good screens for me to get the 3 up without any pressure, so it was good. Luckily, it went in."
Unfortunately for North, Hilton was handling the ball. She took the ensuing inbounds pass and immediately darted past three North Stars.
Hilton crossed midcourt and button-hooked to take more time off the clock. North finally caught up to her and fouled with 7.8 seconds left. With East in the double-bonus, Hilton missed her first free throw but recovered to make the second.
"That's kind of how the momentum kept going," Hilton said. "We kept making free throws and driving."
North dribbled to East's baseline but did not attempt a shot before time expired.
Deckrow followed Hilton with 10 points. Carly Pottle – also a forward during soccer season – had eight. Sophomore guard Katie Claussner scored each of her seven points in the first half, giving North Stars defenders a different look as a speedy left-handed ballhandler.
Still, the Saints pointed to Hilton as their top difference-maker. A night after scoring 13 points in limited minutes in an easy win at Larkin, Hilton treated Saturday like any other day on her winter sports calendar.
"Just her talent. Just her talent in general," Deckrow said. "She knows how to use the ball, knows how to pass. And her strategy, too."